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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

"Above her river, above her hill,
Above her streets of brief renown,
In majesty austere and still
Ottawa’s gloried towers look down.
Dim in the sunset’s misty fires,
Set on the landscape like a crown,
Loom tower and bastion, as the spires
Of some old-world cathedral town.”

William Wilfred Campbell.

THE name Carleton recalls the memory of that successful defender and early Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, or Lord Dorchester; and, appropriately enough, there were many officers and soldiers amongst the pioneers of the county. Half-pay officers settled thickly along the banks of the Ottawa, or Grand, River, and private soldiers filled many a concession behind them. The district was emphatically one of magnificent forests, and in the days when roads were not it was a vast advantage to obtain lands on the river, even though the only craft the settler had at his command might be some such rough, home-made apology for a boat as a “dug-out" cut from a huge pine.

The woods were, indeed, so thick that people might live in the same district for months without knowing of each other’s existence, until some accident led to the pleasant discovery of neighbours. For instance, two runaway steers, owned by different men. but usually worked together, led their masters (settlers of South Gloucester) to the clearing of Colonel Macdonell, a few miles distant in Osgooue Township. This gallant soldier, by the way, had had exciting experiences during the War of 1812 as a despatch rider, and, between a grant made to himself as an officer and that to his U. E. Loyalist wife, possessed a farm of a thousand acres, which he was beginning to clear. The oxen had begun their wanderings along a newly-cut road leading inland from the Rideau River. Reaching its eastward end, they had then made their own trail to the Colonel’s dwelling-place. Happily, their escapade gave him a hint, and, calling his five or six neighbours together, they cut a road, following the track surveyed, so to speak, by the oxen. At first it was but “brushed” and “blazed,” but soon became the winter road to Bytown for all that district, and it was eventually “the highway to market, mill, and store.”

Osgoode Township was settled later than most of the other nine, and chiefly by Scottish folk, whilst in the rest of the county there was a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, and Welsh. Some of the townships had belonged to Russell County, some to Grenville, whilst Gourbourn and the four townships in the north-west corner of Carleton were not set apart till 1816 and later. Every township has its own interesting stories (many of which can be discovered in Mr. J. L. Gourlay’s History of the Ottawa Valley'), but, of course, in all there was much similarity in the experiences of the pioneers.

Wolves were common enough anywhere, but it was within eight miles of the future capital of the Dominion that, in the thirties, the young wife of an officer had the experience of spending days alone in a log-house “with wolves howling madly round, the fiercest of them thrusting their noses against the window-panes,” Huntley also has its stories of wolves and bears; of thick clouds o' wild pigeons, and yet thicker clouds of mosquitoes, which, of course, particularly tortured newly-arrived immigrants. One Irishman, marching through the swamps with an iron pot on his head, ar.d his back and arms burdened with heavy "government” hoes, was most grievously bitten by his vicious little tormentors.

Many of the log shanties built but inexperienced new arrivals can hardly have been weatherproof, but it was the wife of an officer, the first settler in March Township, Mrs. Monk, who used a large tin tea tray to shelter her baby in its cradle from the rain pouring through the roof. There was one man, an English merchant, Hamnet Pinhey, who “came rich to March,” and used his wealth in building a grist-mill, a sawmill, and a church, to the general benefit of the little community. The little village of North Gower, in the township of the same name, also owed to its first settler, Rev. Peter Jones, a retired Methodist minister, both church and school; at least he used his own fine shanty, one “with ornamental corners,” for preaching on Sundays and for teaching the children during the week.

It was not only in one township that girls (and others) occasionally lost themselves in the woods, but to Fitzroy belongs the story of the young lad3r who “on two occasions spent the night on a tree,” and so won from the boys the name of “the angel of the swamp.” It was also in Fitzroy that a young girl who was "lost with her faithful dog, and was eight days away, living on berries,” at last had the happy thought that “ the dog might take her out." Accordingly “ she scolded him, ordering him home. He went reluctantly, every few minutes turning to look at her, but at length brought her out.” Possibly in other townships, too, darning-needles were in the pioneer days scarce and valuable, but in Fitzroy (so the story goes) when the solitary darning-needle of the settlement got lost, the people “turned oat in force and found it.”

There is a dim tradition that Gloucester had a white inhabitant as early as 1803, but the first white man to make a home in the township was Braddish Billings, who had been employed by Philemon Wright, the energetic founder of Hull, to “take out staves” in the woods along the Rideau. Higher up the stream lived a beautiful and charming girl, Almira Dow, who, though still in her teens, had for some months taught a settlement school at a salary of seven dollars a month, with the privilege of “boarding round” at the homes of the pupils. But when pay-day came no cash was forthcoming; nothing but notes, promising certain amounts of wheat. Hoping to obtain money for these, Miss Dow walked thirty miles through the woods to Brockville. The merchants there would do no more than promise goods for the wheat upon its delivery in Brockville, so the resourceful damsel walked back home, collected her wheat, drove with it to Brockville, received her “stoic pay,” and returned in safety. When she married she helped her husband to harvest his first crop of corn, and showed in at least one perilous emergency the same qualities of courage and determination that had marked her as a girl.

Sometimes the hopes of the new-comers proved, from some cause or other, delusive. In 1818 there came up the Ottawa a company of officers and men of the 99th and 100th Regiments, but, though they settled their families temporarily in tents near the spot where the capital now stands, they proceeded to cut a road to the River Jock, or Goodwood, where, with high hopes, they founded what they anticipated would in the future be the city of Richmond. (The only Duke to be Governor-General of Canada till the coming of the present royal representative of his Majesty had just arrived, and at that date “all was Richmond!” though the Duke’s critics broadly hinted that his character was less exalted than his rank.)

The town-planning spirit was abroad amongst the military pioneers, and lots were reserved for public buildings and parks, but tlie remaining months before winter were too short to allow of the building of a sufficient number of houses and shanties. Some, therefore, had to spend the winter in tents.

One evening in the following August two men arrived at midnight with the exciting intelligence that his Grace of Richmond was close at hand, and was intending to visit the village named in his honour, having come on foot thirty miles through the woods from Perth for the purpose. In the morning “every piece of board, plank, or flat stick to be found was carried by scores of willing hands to enable the Duke” (who had spent the night at a not far distant tavern) “ by temporary bridges to cross the gullies.” Had he let them, the delighted people “would have carried him the three miles through that slough.”

Arrived at the village, the Duke ordered a fine dinner for the leading people, and was most sociable and kind ; but his visit ended tragically. At the sight of water he showed, it was remarked, a strange nervousness, and he slept ill. In the morning he set out for Hull, taking the boat, as previously arranged, to go down the Jock to Chapman’s farm, where he was to be met and taken on towards Hull by a wagon and two yokes of oxen. Before reaching the landing-place, he became violently excited, and leaping from the boat, fled through the woods, to be found in a barn in a terrible paroxysm of hydrophobia, caused by the bite of a tame fox. In hot haste doctors were sent for, but they could do nothing, and the oxen and wagon served for a funeral car to carry the Duke’s lifeless body to the Ottawa river.

A few years later Richmond's two annual fairs were the occasions of wild brawls between the lumbermen and ex-soldiers, when excited with drink, but at times a gigantic Irish priest, Father Peter Smith, used to scatter the combatants with a long whip. Ottawa, or rather its embryo village of Bytown, frequently witnessed similar scenes.

Apart from the construction of the Rideau Canal (to which, indeed, the city owed its beginning), lumber and legislation are the key-words to the history of Ottawa. It was in 1806 that that "sharp lumberer,” Philemon Wright, took the first raft of timber down the Ottawa to Quebec. That was a score of years before the beginning of Bytown, but the trade in lumber and 111 manufactures of which wood is the basis are still the chief industries of the twin cities on the Ottawa, and at certain times of the year it is a most interesting sight to see the logs come down the timber-slides at the Falls.

Hull was a flourishing village before a single settler bad established himself on the site of Ottawa. In fact, in 1816, when one of the pioneers died on the south side of the “Grand River’’ (as the earliest settlers liked to call the Ottawa) his body was ferried over to Hull for burial. As for getting married, the people on the south side used sometimes to fetch a justice of the peace from a long distance to perform the ceremony, and, as in the Province of Quebec marriage by a magistrate was not legal, some ingenious settlers of Hull crossed in winter to that half of the river which was under the jurisdiction of Upper Canada and were then married by a magistrate on the ice.

As late as 1818 a cedar swamp covered the site of Ottawa, and there was good duck-shooting on a pond where are now fine streets. Years later “when the rowers waded along (the future) Bank and O’Connor Streets they had to be washed before they could be milked.” Yet in very early years there were not wanting prophets who predicted Ottawa’s future greatness. The War of 1812 had set the military authorities searching anxiously for some other route for the transportation of troops and stores than that by the St. Lawrence, which seemed too much exposed to the possible attacks of the Americans; and before the name of By was heard at the Chaudiere Lord Dalhousie (then Governur-General), strolling on the beach at Hull, observed to a friend that the Duke of Wellington had proposed a scheme for uniting the Ottawa with Lake Ontario, and went on to predict that, in that event, the very eminence which we call Parliament Hill would be the seat of government for the two Canadas. The noble Earl did not see quite far enough to discern one Canada stretching from ocean to ocean.

It was not till the year 1826 (“the birth year of Ottawa”) that the Imperial Government actually began the construction of the Rideau Canal. The work was put in charge of Colonel By, and for the next six years his stalwart, soldierly figure, often mounted on a great black horse, was a familiar sight in the village (bearing his name), which sprang up like a mushroom. Unquestionably Ottawa is a name at once more euphonious and more dignified than Bytown (which somehow seems to savour of the odd place-names in Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress); but it seems a pity that the gallant Colonel’s name had to be superseded.

He was of a fine type of British soldier. He had his share of that bulldog tenacity of purpose which refuses to acknowledge defeat—a quality which inspired him, on the one hand, in a long struggle to persuade the British Government to build the new waterway on a scale which could be used by the steamboats, then beginning to supersede the old Durham boats; and, on the other, enabled him to rise superior to the natural difficulties of his task. When the almost completed dam at the Hog’s Back was washed away by a spring flood, he is reported to have said that he would rebuild the dam “until it would stand, if he had to build it with solid half-dollar pieces!” An enthusiast for his work, he would allow no shirking or scamping or poor workmanship; but, though a strict disciplinarian, he was also kind and charitable.


He first pitched his tent in the unbroken forest of Nepean Point, but soon removed to a house built of boulders, with “ very rustic woodwork,” on what is now Major’s Hill, while barracks were erected for his company of sappers and miners on the hill now crowned by the Parliament buildings.

Early in 1827 Lord Dalhousie visited Bytown to witness “the ceremony of breaking ground for the canal" ; and in August of the same year the famous Arctic explorer, Franklin, laid the corner-stone of the locks. But these only represented part of By’s activities. He was busy with a bridge at the Chaudiere to give the first land-communication between the two Provinces, with the Deep Cut, the Sappers’ Bridge, and some twenty-six miles of road.

Money for the payment of the workmen used to come out from England in half-crowns, packed in kegs like nails. Once the head camc out of one of these kegs, and its contents were scattered in the street. The cost of the canal amounted in all to about $5,000,000. Tne distance by the Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston is 126 miles, but much advantage was taken of natural waterways. Twenty-four dams and forty-seven locks eight of which are within the limits of Ottawa) had to be constructed to turn numerous rapids into still water and to overcome differences of level. In the spring of 1832 the first steamer passed through the locks. This vessel was called by the inelegant name of the Pumper; and the second steamer to go through was the Union.

After this, till the completion of the St. Lawrence canals, the whole trade of Upper and Lower Canada went past By town. Sometimes hundreds of immigrants passed through in a day, and it was the chief amusement of the townsfolk to watch the vessels going through the locks. For the first quarter of a century, however, visitors noted that the Bytown folk seemed to have no time to pave their streets, to think of gardens or flowers, or even to remove the boulders lying about amongst the houses. The upper and lower towns were separate villages, with "the wooded spur of the hill,” on which the barracks stood, between; and from all accounts a rough, lawless, little place it was, frequented by lumbermen, of different nationalities, for business and pleasure, and these often fell to fighting amongst themselves or with the wild Irish “shiners,” who also found employment rafting lumber down the river. Whisky was cheap, and, as “Ralph Connor” says of the lumberers in The Man from Glengarry, “drunken rows were their delight, and fights so fierce that many a man came out battered and bruised to death or to life-long decrepitude.” Escape to the woods was so easy that it put a premium on crime, and in 1837 the law-abiding citizens formed an “Association for Preserving the Public Peace in Bytown,” the object being mutual protection against “ felonious assault.” Nor was it only in Bytown that peaceful settlers suffered from the lawless lumbermen. All along the canal the “shiners” were always on the look-out to pick quarrels with the farmers, some of whom were themselves "rough-and-ready fighters.”

But despite the rude accompaniments of the trade, it was building up Bytown, which was incorporated as a town in 1847, with 6coo inhabitants, and as a city ir 1855, when it changed its name to Ottawa. At the earlier of these two dates, about half the population was Irish and a quarter French-Canadian. From morning to night the streets were filled “with Lower Canadian caleches,” and altogether, to an English observer, the scene was "exceedingly foreign.”

In 1857, as every Canadian knows, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa to be the capital of the Canadas, on account not only of its central position with regard to the two Provinces, and of its distance from the frontier, but also because of the striking beauty of its site, which is a worthy setting for Parliament buildings, not now of "the Canadas” alone, but of the Dominion. A new chapter of the history of Ottawa was begun in 1867, but it belongs to the story of the nation rather than to that of the counties.

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